What I learned in 2013 / by Jessica Lee


2013 was a big year for me. I graduated university, got my first full-time job, quit my first full-time job, got my driver's license, lived in Saskatoon for a month, travelled through the States a la Jack Kerouac for two weeks, visited Montreal twice, went to Kentucky to go climbing, visited Edmonton and Calgary, began a European backpacking trip in Iceland (and saw the Northern Lights for the first time) and now I'm in Paris eating macarons.

Here are the most important things I've learned in 2013:

1. If an interesting opportunity presents itself, go for it no matter how nervous you are. You may not get that opportunity again. I know the above is an extremely vague and open-to-interpretation statement, but I'm still kicking myself for not going forward with something that happened way back in February. A similar opportunity came up in August, but it wasn't as good as what I stumbled upon in February.

2. Trusting strangers and having them turn out to be amazing people is really fulfilling. I haven't blogged about this yet, but during my backpacking trip through the States, I relied on Couchsurfing to stay in the towns with more expensive lodgings. Because I was only working part-time during the school year, I had saved just enough money to do a short road trip before going to Saskatoon. To fill in the monetary shortcomings, I signed up for Couchsurfing and hoped for the best. I met some extremely cool people (one of them a self-made CEO of a restaurant chain), and none of them were weird in any way. They let me stay in their homes and didn't expect anything in return. It is this kindness that contradicts all the messages mass media has been propelling about suicide bombers (2013 was a big year for bombers), corrupt politicians and corrupt businesspeople- it made me feel good about humanity again. So thank you, travel community!

3. Don't underestimate perceived small opportunities. I didn't think anything major would come out of going to Saskatoon in May. It started off as a joke of "now I'll be able to cross off living in the Prairies on my bucket list". The Explore program was mostly government-sponsored and also a lottery system, so since I had been awarded with the opportunity, I thought that I might as well take it, since there wasn't much I had to lose at that point. It turns out that while the town (as predicted) wasn't that exciting, the types of people who sign up to do language programs are actually amazing people to be around. Only a certain type of open-minded, adventurous and cultural-minded kind of person would want to spend a month in Saskatoon learning French, and I got to meet a couple of fantastic people, some of whom I talk to daily.

4. The more you give, the more you tend to receive back. Receiving things back shouldn't be the point of giving, but I realized that the more I gave to my friends (help, gifts, taking people out to meals, etc.) and my bosses (time, effort, things I wasn't paid to do), that they tended to reciprocate so much more. I initially started gifting randomly because I was at a stage in my life where I had excess, and I wanted to share some of it with someone, but I found that in the end, a lot of that giving has helped me. Isn't humanity strange?

5. Corporate culture is a whole other animal. 2013 was when I started my first full-time job and there definitely was a steep learning curve. I had to learn the workplace culture, the lingo, figure out the fastest ways to get things done, and figure out how everything worked. I easily learned the core responsibilities of my job within the first couple of weeks, but learning the people was a lot more difficult. When collaborating with different departments, some people were efficient and got back to you extremely quickly, no questions asked. But to get through to other people, sometimes you have to go through their bosses first, or get your own boss to put some weight into your request. Up until then, I (naively) thought all offices were highly functional.

6. You want to end up where you are happiest. In the office where I worked, there was a woman who seemed to be playing Candy Crush every time I passed her desk. Usually, people don't start off the day by playing Candy Crush, rather Candy Crush is a form of escape from other things you're meant to be doing. I decided then and there that I didn't want to ever be someone who wasted time playing distraction games at work. I always want to have a purpose in life and I always want to feel challenged in what I'm doing. Life is short, if you don't like what you're doing, you should make moves so that you're happy.